Victor Burgin
[Artist and writer, b. 1941, Sheffield, England, lives in London.]

 At the end of the second year I’d have students come into my office and they’d say, “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t like the theory classes. I find them really interesting, but I can’t take a picture any more. Every time I raise the camera to my eye I think, is this politically OK? Is this... etc., etc.” The advice I always gave them was: Shoot first, ask questions later. 
 The electronic image fulfills the condition of what Baudrillard has termed “the simulacrum”—it is a copy of which there is no original. It is precisely in this characteristic of digital photography, I believe, that we must locate the fundamental significance of digital photography in Western history. 
 The goods produced by photography, cinema-photography, and video-photography are not material ‘consumer durables’ but are rather what we might call ‘symbolic goods’. 
 It is neither theoretically necessary nor desirable to make psychologistic assumptions concerning the intentions of the photographer, it is the pre-constituted field of discourse which is the substantial “author” here, photograph and photographer alike are its products; and, in the act of seeing, so is the viewer. 
 Counter to the nineteenth-century aesthetics which still dominates most teaching of photography, and most writings on photography, work in semiotics has shown that a photograph is not to be reduced to ‘pure form’, nor ‘window on the world’, nor is it a gangway to the presence of an author. A fact of primary social importance is that the photograph is a place of work, a structured and structuring space within which the reader deploys, and is deployed by, what codes he or she is familiar with in order to make sense. 
 To remain long with a single image is to risk the loss of our imaginary command of the look, to relinquish it to that absent other to whom it belongs by right—the camera. The image then no longer received our look, reassuring us of our founding centrality, it rather, as it were, avoids our gaze, confirming its allegiance to the other. 
 The mind is not simply a screen upon which the world projects its appearances; in “making something” of appearances the mind, in a sense, is also a projector, projecting a world of things onto those appearances. 
 It is almost as unusual to pass a day without seeing a photograph as it is to miss seeing writing. 
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